Over the course of 15 years, we’ve seen Nick Saban not only turn Alabama Football into perhaps the greatest college program of all time, but also develop the Crimson Tide into an offensive powerhouse.
Though he’s a defensive coach, Saban has made the right hires at offensive coordinator that’s helped Bama find its place in the age of modern offenses.
So, let’s take a look at the top five OC’s that Coach Saban has had during his time in Tuscaloosa.
Top 5 Alabama Football offensive coordinators of the Nick Saban era
Honorable Mention: Doug Nussmeier (2012-2013)
Nussmeier was the hardest one to leave off the top five, and I’m still fighting myself with the decision. Nussmeier was Alabama’s OC for two seasons in 2012 and 2013, while also serving as the quarterbacks coach.
During those two years, Nussmeier was instrumental in the Tide’s offense starting to open up in the passing game, as well as developing AJ McCarron into a more polished quarterback.
In those two seasons, Alabama’s offense averaged 38.4 points per game and 449.8 yards per game, and Nussmeier helped the Tide go 24-3 through 2012 and 2013, capturing the national championship in 2012.
5. Bill O’Brien (2021-present)
I feel like a lot of Bama fans are going to disagree with this pick, but I’m sticking with it. While it wasn’t a surprise to me when Coach Saban hired O’Brien to his staff in 2021, I didn’t expect him to be named offensive coordinator.
While his offense has been up and down at times, O’Brien’s offense last year was incredibly effective. Bama was 4th in yards per game (492.3) and 5th in points per game (39.3), as the Crimson Tide won the SEC and came up just short in the national championship against Georgia.
O’Brien’s development of Bryce Young has been the most impressive accomplishment he’s had in Tuscaloosa. In 2021, he took the first-time starter and turned Young into a Heisman Trophy winner, as he threw for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns.
O’Brien came into the 2022 season facing a tough challenge, as Alabama tried to replace several key starters on offense from the year before, including receivers Jameson Williams and John Metchie, leading rusher Brian Robinson and All-American tackle Evan Neal.
So far through five games, the Alabama offense has been humming. Thanks to Young, and new additions like running back Jahmyr Gibbs, the Crimson Tide are off to a 5-0 start, and the offense is averaging 48.4 points per game.
4. Jim McElwain (2008-2011)
Statistically speaking, O’Brien’s offense has been more impressive than McElwain’s, but it’s hard to dismiss what Jim and Alabama accomplished during his time in Tuscaloosa.
It was a perfect match for what Coach Saban wanted his offense to look like. During McElwain’s three seasons, the offense relied heavily on running backs like Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
While McElwain wasn’t blessed with the elite QB’s as some other Alabama OC’s, he made it work with John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron. He also made freshman wide receiver Julio Jones a priority in 2008, as the future All-Pro racked up over 900 receiving yards in his first year.
Previous to McElwain’s arrival, Alabama Football had not averaged 30 points per game as an offense since 1983, and the Tide did it every year McElwain was there. McElwain helped Alabama win their first two national championships in the Coach Saban era in 2009 and 2011.
3. Lane Kiffin (2014-2016)
You could say this was one of the more important hires Coach Saban has made since being at Alabama. For the previous seven seasons, while they had found success and won championships, the Tide’s offense was more run-heavy, bully-ball if you will.
Kiffin came to Tuscaloosa and introduced Bama to a modern spread offense. While they didn’t become a pass-happy program during Kiffin’s time, his offense still was able to find success.
Blake Sims was a former running back, who Kiffin turned into a quarterback who threw 28 touchdowns and a then school-record 3,487 passing yards in 2014.
In 2015, we saw Kiffin adapt his offense more toward the running of Derrick Henry, who eventually won the Heisman Trophy, while also taking advantage of their weapons at receiver like Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart. The success of Kiffin’s offense eventually helped Alabama win their fourth national championship under Coach Saban.
2. Mike Locksley (2017-2018)
While he was OC at Alabama for two seasons, it was in 2018 when he started calling plays where we saw the Tide’s offense reach new heights.
With quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Locksley’s offense was the best in Alabama’s history up to that point, averaging an incredible 45.6 points per game and 522 yards of total offense per game.
Tagovailoa passed for 43 touchdowns and 3,966 yards, while throwing only six interceptions. Locksley’s 2018 receiver group is often referred to as the best in college football history, featuring Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle.
Locksley helped Alabama reach the national championship game in 2018, on his way to winning the Broyles Award, given to college football’s top assistant coach.
1. Steve Sarkisian (2019-2020)
The Alabama Football offense reached its highest point during the Coach Saban era in the two years with Sark as the OC.
In those two years, the Tide averaged a whopping 47.8 points per game and 526.3 yards of total offense per game. Sarkisian’s offense was also well balanced, with a healthy balance of an air it out passing game, as well as a punishing ground attack.
In 2020, the offense had Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, who had 117 receptions, 1,856 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns.
Quarterback Mac Jones won the Davey O’Brien Award, throwing for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns to 4 interceptions, and set an NCAA record with a 203.1 passer rating.
Running back Najee Harris took home the Doak Walker Award, racking up 1,466 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns.
Sarkisian also brought home some hardware, winning the Broyles Award, as Alabama Football brought another national championship back to Tuscaloosa.
Do you agree with my list?